Expert Insight: Churchill Leadership Series
By David Schneider
Date: June 15, 2010

Churchill Series : Behavior 7 - A Centered Belief In Himself And His Abilities

Churchill Knew That When A Leader Does Not Believe In Their Own Abilities They Cannot Believe In Others´┐Ż

To some people Winston Churchill was an arrogant man.  Those who believed so missed the whole of his ability; and therefore, missed the essence of the man.  Churchill was very capable at almost everything that he put his hand or mind to. He was both a force of reason and a force of will.

Churchill Gained Confidence Through Experience

In the days of his young adulthood Winston Churchill sought out danger and fortune, both with an eye on what the exposure would do for him in political life, and also in what excitement it would bring him.  He lived with a zest of adventure in almost everything that he did.  Not a strong lad and somewhat challenged with numbers and mathematics, Churchill excelled in vocabulary, classic literature, and history.  Physical sport and activity was not missed, but he would not strain himself unless it was needed.

Churchill learned what his limitations were and tested them by striving further than he had the last time, in whatever he turned his hand to.  Later in life, while in political purgatory before the war, he learned how to paint and built stone and brick walls in the gardens around his home.  He managed to plant a large garden and use a bulldozer to dig out a pond on his farm.

The more that Churchill did in his life, the more confident he became, both in his abilities and in himself.  He was not overconfident, but centered in his belief in his abilities, in what he understood, and what he stood for.  When he stood with confidence Churchill set a standard that others looked up to.  His confidence was contagious.  He was the model of perseverance, physical and mental energy.  The morning after the first blitz he drove down to the docks-to the center of the destruction.  He set the tone for his people by being there, on the front line, asking the people if they were disheartened.  The crowds always answered “NO” because their leader was not disheartened nor were they.

A leader that questions his reasons, that questions his core beliefs, cannot and will not lead – for the people will see right through it.  Churchill possessed the right combination of skills and experience to build center in his belief that he was the right leader for the time.  Without that centered belief, in what he was doing and in himself, he could not have led.

Experts And Mavericks Helped Churchill Succeed

He was not an expert – but depended on experts to show him new ideas, and he trusted his ability to recognize brilliant mavericks and to back them.  When presented with ideas by Beaverbrook, Dowding, Hobart and others, he gave them the freedom to take action, backed them and removed obstacles.  As the mavericks succeeded Churchill’s confidence soared.  His confidence allowed him to focus on the overriding strategies for fighting the war, allowed him to woo Roosevelt into providing the materials England needed to fight and succeed against the Nazi Blitz.

“In the end we will break their hearts” stated Churchill in November 1939, before taking the reigns of the British government.  As First Lord of the Admiralty he stood before the House of Commons and stated, “We shall suffer, and we shall suffer continually, but by perseverance and by taking measures on the largest scale, I feel no doubt that in the end we shall break their hearts.”

Churchill understood what the Royal Navy faced, that the real problem facing the British Navy was the German U-Boats, not the German Surface Fleet.  From his position as the First lord it was his business to know not only his fleet capabilities, but the capabilities of the enemy fleet.  He knew the leaders of the British Navy and understood them to be better trained and better prepared because he had worked to make them better prepared.

A leader’s centered belief in his abilities, his knowledge, and in those around him is a contagious weapon against Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. 

For the Supply Chain Leader

How many times have you watched a business leader fail because they could not make a decision, or they would attempt to hang a decision on a peer, or worse, a subordinate, all in the effort to avoid being blamed for a mistake?  In a typical corporate career you will see example after example of the timid leader who does not have a centered belief in themselves.

When a leader does not believe in their own abilities they cannot believe in others – they will always doubt.  That doubt will undermine not only their confidence, but the confidence of their subordinates, and eventually the confidence of their leaders.  Just as confidence is contagious, so is doubt.  Doubt can run quickly and deep in an organization.

Churchill understood that point.

Final Thoughts

Next time, we will look at the eighth of the 12 key behaviors of Churchill's leadership.

For the first eight installments of Schneider's Churchill series (including an introduction to the series), please visit the main Supply Chain Digest Website at under "Blogs."

Agree or disagree with Schneider's perspective? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts for publication in the SCDigest newsletter Feedback section, and on the website. Upon request, comments will be posted with the respondent's name or company withheld.

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About the Author
David Schneider is founder and president of David K. Schneider & Company, a supply chain and logistics consulting firm. Prior to that, he was Director of Logistics for Pep Boys Auto and a consultant at Keough.

Schneider Says:

A leader’s centered belief

in his abilities, his knowledge,

and in those around him is a contagious weapon against Fear, Uncertainty and


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